Olmec Jaguar-Human Transformation figure (Snite)

An Olmec were jaguar figurine. Photo Credit: Craig Fisher

The Human Animal Bond Gets Literal

The jaguar was revered by the people of the first true civilization on the North American continent, the Olmecs. This amazing feline was the most fearsome predator in the jungles with the ability to hunt during the day or the night. It seemed to have no fear as it could both climb trees and moved easily in the water.

The Olmec believed that there were 3 realms of existence: a Sky Realm, the Earthly realm, and the Underworld.  The jaguar, while associated most closely with the underworld, was the only creature that could safely pass between all realms of existence. The shamans, a group of people who had the special power to communicate with the gods and heal people, believed that jaguars were their spirit companions. They were believed to change into were jaguars  as they visited the spirit realms. These were jaguars would “dominate the spirits, in the same way as a predator dominates its prey.”

The art that the Olmec civilization left behind tells the story of the were jaguars. The were jaguar also shows up in the art of subsequent civilizations such as the Maya and the Aztecs. Figurines, drawings, and engravings depict the were jaguar as a mostly human figure having a down turned mouth, large lips, almond shaped eyes, and a cleft head. However, there are pieces of art depicting shamans in all stages of transformation from human to were jaguar.

To learn more about the were jaguar, please read my post The Native American Were Jaguar.

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